It was recently announced that, as of January 1st, 2022, British Columbia will be the first and only province in Canada to provide all their workers (even those working part-time) with five days of paid sick leave each year. The change was announced by Labour Minister Harry Bains at a press conference on November 24th, 2021. It will be an important change because, as Bains noted, about half of the B.C. working population does not have paid sick leave. Often, these employees represent the most vulnerable of workers. It is these workers who must often make the difficult – and some might say unconscionable – decision of staying home and losing pay or going into work when sick. This decision has been made ever more difficult to make in the unprecedented COVID-19 era, wherein we have all been cautioned to keep our distance from others when we feel even a little unwell.
While the change appears to be a step in the right direction for many employees in need, it has not been universally welcomed – some groups continue to have misgivings. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business, for example, has expressed concerns regarding the impact this new approach will have on small businesses who cannot afford to pay their employees for this amount of sick leave. The group has expressed their disappointment in the B.C. government for failing to recognize the “challenges and realities struggling small businesses are facing”.
On the other hand, some groups feel the changes have not gone far enough to protect workers. The B.C. Federation of Labour, while acknowledging that the change represents a significant milestone, would have preferred to see a 10-day standard implemented. In response to the announcement, the group clarified:
“While we’re disappointed, we’ll continue to fight for the full 10 days of leave. The public health and economic case is clear. Despite some business lobbyists’ dire claims about costs to employers, study after study—and practical experience around the world— show the opposite: paid sick leave is good for the economy.”
Sick Leave in Ontario
In Ontario, sick leave is governed by the Employment Standards Act. Under that Act, Ontario employees have a right to three days of unpaid sick leave each calendar year due to personal illness, injury or medical emergency, barring special exemptions that apply to certain occupations. This is true even if the injury is entirely the fault of your own actions. This sick leave is equally available to employees whether they work full-time or part-time and does not depend on what time of year you begin your employment. This means that an employee who commences employment contract in January will have as many sick days that year as an employee who commences their employment in October.
In comparison, the new British Columbia approach is obviously better for employees than the approach that currently exists in Ontario. Here, employees must continue to decide whether doing the responsible thing (i.e., staying home when sick) is worth missing out on a day’s pay.